Shelf Obsession: David Young

You’ve been invited to dinner at someone’s home. Your host is busy in the kitchen and you wait in the living room. What do you do to pass the time? Admit it: you snoop around their bookshelves don’t you? We know you love shelf snooping just as much as we do, and now you can check out all sorts of bookshelves via the ABC blog.

David Young is a member of the : a regular contributor to Do You Read Me? He shared his beautiful set of bookshelves, and the eclectic mix of books on them, with us – way back in December, but the times, they were ahectic back then.  Thanks for your patience, David!

Wow, what a beautiful set of bookshelves! They make my bookseller’s heart swell with pride. I can see quite a few collections: Is that the whole of the Jeeves collection? And what edition are those intriguing silhouette-spined series of? I think I can guess one is of Sherlock Holmes, but the other one?

That’s pretty much all of Jeeves I think – I love PG Wodehouse, classic old-style English writing. Raymond Chandler is the other silhouette-spined series – of course brought up in England too, though his style is a little different !

I can see you’re quite a big hardcover and box set fan. Do you simply like them better than paperbacks? Do you have any editions (first, rare, simply beautiful?) you’re particularly proud of?

I’m very proud of the collection of Folio Society books I’ve acquired over the years – each one unique with its own typeface, binding, and specially commissioned illustrations carefully chosen to reflect the work published. They’re all individual works of art in their own right.

I can see some rigorous shelving order going on, but can you walk us through your bookcase anyway?

Apart from the Folio collection, I have my fiction books arranged alphabetically, then separate sections for humour, sport, poetry, spirituality, travel, history, music and general reference. I used to have a big chess collection, but when I stopped playing actively I gave them to a local chess club. Actually, taking photos for you forced me into rearranging my collection more logically than before, so thanks for that discipline !

Your books on religion and spirituality look decidedly newer than your fiction collection. Is that area a relatively new interest for you? What set you off on reading so many? Has your taste in books changed over the years?

Well spotted ! Having had a very religious upbringing and rejected it during my rebellious teens, I had long been in search of a moral centre for my life, which I found when someone introduced me to Buddhism about 5 years ago. That stimulated me to explore spirituality in general.

In my early reading days I worked my way through the established fiction classics, since then it’s been exploring other areas in more depth, with the occasional dip into modern authors such as Julian Barnes and Martin Amis.

You have quite an eclectic taste! Can you pick out a few from the various sections (fiction/poetry/religion/spirituality/biographies/history/etc.) that have the most meaning to you? Or should I simply look at your Top 5 Books That Changed My Life from 2009 to get my answer? 🙂

Eclectic is a polite word for it ! My collection is a fair reflection of my multiple personalities I guess. I’ve always tried to follow the “mens sana in corpore sano ” ideal by pursuing a wide range of interests – although some of my friends might question the “sana “…..

So many books have meant so much to me, but if I had to pick out one it would be Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I actually wrote a paper on it for my Masters. So many themes of self-development, challenge, conquest of the unknown, peer pressure, the desire for freedom of expression, all in such a slim book.

In poetry, I came across ee cummings and Emily Dickinson quite early. Shirley Agudo was kind enough to lend me a book of fifty meditations by a former monk called Thomas Moore, Original Self, which I found a real mind-opener. Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society persuaded me to start looking at society from a completely new perspective. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now continues to help me in my pursuit of that most elusive of Buddhist principles, “staying in the moment”.

I can see a few ex-library copies dotted through especially the fiction. Are you a dedicated bargain hunter?

I wouldn’t say dedicated, but I always have my eyes open. Recently at an Indonesian fair in Rijswijk ( of all places ) I picked up a secondhand copy of a book called A Guide for the Perplexed by EF Schumacher (of Small is Beautiful fame) – as soon as I saw the title I knew I had to have it ! Turned out to be a most thought-provoking look at the Meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything.

Where are your bookcases? It looks like the living room to me, but do you have any books hidden or proudly displayed elsewhere in the house, too?

It is in the living room indeed, on the opposite side of the room to my cd collection (about 500). Wasn’t it Francis Bacon who said “Books do furnish a room”? There will always be a pile by my bedside for late night reading.

How many books do you think you have altogether?

A rough guess: 450.

Do you have any awful books in your collection – books you regret having bought?

The Fermata by Nicholson Baker – childish and unreadable, a deep disappointment. I borrowed a friend’s copy of the Da Vinci Code and gave it back very quickly without allowing it to pollute my shelves…

What do you do when your books start to become too numerous? Do you weed them out or add more shelves?

Both! I’m a born hoarder so it’s hard to give anything away.

Do you keep a reading record? What was the last book you read?

Since I always have about 3 on the go at once, no. Just finished The Wisdom of the Buddhist Masters by Robert Sachs, bought (you will be pleased to hear) at ABC in Den Haag. (On sale – how Dutch of me.)

Do you use bookmarks, or are you of the whatever-happens-to-be-nearby-when-I-need-to-stop-reading club (of which I count myself a charter member)?

I always use my ABC bookmarks !

Which book from your childhood do you remember best?

The Hornblower books by CS Forester, an author probably long forgotten by now – well my childhood was a long time ago :-)).  A series about the career of a young naval officer in the Napoleonic Wars, which can be read on one level as pure adventure stories but whose eponymous hero, despite all his brave deeds of derring-do, is full of self-doubt and uncertainty. It first opened my eyes to how difficult it can be sometimes to know what’s the right thing to do, to make choices and have the courage to carry them through. A brilliant psychological portrait – Harry Potter eat your heart out !

If you could give one author eternal life so that they could write forever and ever, who would it be and why? (You can resurrect a dead author too if you like.)

It can only be Jane Austen, who else?

If you’d like to show off your shelves, e-mail If we use your bookcase, we’ll give you a €10 American Book Center gift voucher to say thank you!

All pictures in this post are by David Young. Please contact us if you want to use any of them so we can check this with him.